Reflections of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. [VIDEO]
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I was only 10 years old when I heard the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. Being that young, I was somewhat unaware of what historical significance this man symbolized for our country. But I remember watching the news and I remember seeing racism between whites and blacks. Only until I became a little older did I fully appreciated what Dr. King stood for and what his dream was all about.Martin Luther King Jr., born in Atlanta, Ga., on Jan. 15, 1929 was the second child of Martin Luther King Sr., (1899-1984) a pastor, and Alberta Williams King, (1904-1974) a former school teacher. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in a neighborhood named Sweet Auburn, home to some of the most prominent and wealthy African-Americans in the country.
At age 15, King was admitted to Morehouse College, after attending segregated public schools. Morehouse, the alma mater of his father and his maternal grandfather was where he studied medicine and law. After a mentorship under Morehouse president Dr. Benjamin Mays, he decided to pursue a career in ministry just as his father did. Influenced by Dr. Mays, who was a theologian and outspoken advocate for racial equality, King went on to graduate in 1948 earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of his predominately white senior class.
In 1953, King finished a graduate program at Boston University and two years later earned a doctorate in systematic theology. It was there where he met his future wife Coretta Scott -- (1927-2006) a singer from Alabama studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. Married in 1953, the couple moved to Montgomery, AL., where King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. During their time there Coretta gave birth to four children -- Yolanda Denise King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice Albertine King.
Timeline: Montgomery Bus Boycott
After living in Alabama for less than a year, the segregated city of Montgomery became the epicenter for the struggles of civil rights in America. On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks,(1913-2005), a secretary of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus and was arrested. After that now famous incident, activists coordinated a bus boycott that would continue 381 days causing an economic impact on the city's transit service and downtown business owners. That incident was the turning point in King's life as he was chosen as the official spokesman and protest leader in the civil rights movement.
In 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated seating on public buses was unconstitutional and by that time King had entered the national spotlight as an inspirational proponent of organized non-violent resistance. This angered white supremacists who firebombed his home in January. However, with the success of the boycott in 1957, King, along with other civil right activists and ministers, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (SCLC) -- a group committed to achieving full equality for African Americans through non-violence. King was the president of this organization until his untimely death in 1968.
Timeline: Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Martin Luther King Jr. traveled around the country and later the world giving lectures on non-violent protests and civil rights as well as meeting with religious figures, activists and political leaders. King also wrote several books and articles during this time. But perhaps his most influential meeting was in India in 1959 when he met Ghandi, the man he described in his autobiography as "the guiding light of our technique of non-violent social change."
King turned full circle in 1960 and returned with his family to Atlanta where he joined his father and co-pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. King, along with SCLC members, became key players in some of the most highly profile civil right battles of the 1960s. For example, the Birmingham campaign in 1963, activists used boycotts, sit-ins and marches to protest not only segregation but unfair hiring practices and other injustices in one of America's most racially divided cities.
On April 12, King was arrested for his involvement in the protest and subsequently penned the civil rights manifesto known as the "Letter From Birmingham Jail" an eloquent defense of civil disobedience addressed to a group of white clergymen who had criticized his demonstration.
Timeline: Freedom March on Washington
It was later that year that Martin Luther King Jr. organized the March on Washington with other civil rights leaders to push for better jobs and more freedoms. It was a peaceful political rally that was designed to help shed the light on the injustices faced by African Americans that continued across the country. The event, held on August 28, was attended by 200,000 to 300,000 participants and still is regarded as one of the most historical moments in American history. It is considered the greatest civil rights movement of our time which helped foster the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Timeline: The Iconic "I Have a Dream" Speech
The March on Washington gave birth to King's "I Have a Dream" speech, which many consider as one of the most spirited and masterful speeches ever given from an individual in our century. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument to a president who a century earlier ended the institution of slavery in the United States, King shared his vision for the future.
After the march, and his powerful speech, King's reputation broadened around the world. And later that year he was named "Man of The Year" by Time magazine. In 1964 King became the youngest person, at 35 years old, ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The spring of 1965 brought violence between white segregationists and peaceful demonstrators in Selma, AL., where the SCLC and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had put together a voter registration campaign. With King's elevated leadership and reputation at an all time high, this demonstration drew international attention.
Many Americans were outraged at the violence they were witnessing on television and this inspired supporters from across the nation to gather in Selma to organize a march to Montgomery, led by King and supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The president ordered federal troops in to keep the peace. That march eventually led Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, which allowed African Americans the right to vote.
Timeline: The Selma Incident
After the Selma events, tension grew even further between Martin Luther King Jr. and the radical opposition who didn't like his nonviolent methods and commitment working within political circles for peaceful resolutions. King became more politically involved and used his activist status to address the Vietnam War and poverty among Americans of all races. In 1967, another massive march known as the Poor People's Campaign was led by King to the nation's capital.
Timeline: Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tenn., to support a sanitation workers' strike and on the evening of April 4, King was shot to death while standing on his hotel balcony. The assassin was James Earl Ray (1928-1998), an escaped convict who pleaded guilty to the murder. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Riots broke out in cities all across America upon learning of King's death and President Johnson declared a national day of mourning.
After years of of campaigning, activists encouraged President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) in 1983 to sign a bill into law designating a U.S. federal holiday in honor of King. Members of Congress and Coretta Scott King were on hand to witness the historical moment. Observed on the third Monday of January, the first celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day occurred in 1986.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a man with a vision and a purpose and a dream "that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed -- we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal." These words still resonate today, years after his passing. The dream lives on today.